Conditions For Patients

Dr Arif Khan discusses the many misconceptions around epilepsy

Dr Arif Khan is a talented specialist pediatric neurologist in Dubai. Dr Arif works at the Neuropedia Children’s Neuroscience Center clinic together with a team of the best child neurologists and psychologists in Dubai, specialised in treating epilepsy, ADHD, autism, speech problems, cerebral palsy and more. Click here for more information.

A short introduction to epilepsy

The human race has known about epilepsy for thousands of years. As Wikipedia says, “Epilepsy is a group of neurological disorders characterized by recurrent epileptic seizures. Epileptic seizures are episodes that can vary from brief and nearly undetectable periods to long periods of vigorous shaking. These episodes can result in physical injuries, including occasionally broken bones.” At the same time, years of international research have delivered few clues about the true nature of the problem. 

Luckily we know enough about epilepsy to understand the underlying mechanism and know how to treat it. The good news is that these days it is more likely to be called a disorder than a disease. On the other hand, while various medical explanations have been accepted by wider society, there are still a few very unhelpful misconceptions about the disorder. 

Here are some of the most common myths we still see during our work treating people with epilepsy, myths that still affect people with the condition.  

Epilepsy Q&A – The real truth from a respected expert  

Q: Is epilepsy contagious?

A: No, you cannot catch epilepsy from other people. It isn’t passed down the generations, either. There is no genetic component, as far as we know, mostly because the condition usually involves multiple gene defects.  

Q: Are people with epilepsy disabled? 

A: No. Patients who live with epilepsy have the same intelligence and potential as anyone else. While some people suffer serious seizures and can’t work, others enjoy successful careers. Either way, there is no need to treat people with epilepsy any differently. We simply assess the intensity and frequency of their seizures to make sure the patient is safe and that the people around them are safe as well.  

Q: I have heard that children suffer from epilepsy but adults don’t. Is that true? 

Most of the time epilepsy symptoms begin during childhood. But they can start as an adult and even begin when you’re in old age. Much of the time, in older people, it is symptomatic epilepsy brought about by underlying issues like strokes and heart disease.

Q: I heard that you can’t die from epilepsy. Is that true? 

A: No. Epilepsy is a life-threatening condition and treatment is essential. The condition has been responsible for death by drowning, car accidents and falls. Unusually long seizures called status epilepticus can lead to death, and while it isn’t well understood, Sudden Unexpected Death in Epilepsy is widely reported. 

Q: Someone said you can swallow your tongue during an epileptic seizure. Are they right?  

A: No. The worst that can happen is they bite their own tongue. It’s impossible to swallow your own tongue. 

Q: Can an epileptic person have a responsible career?

A: Of course. While epilepsy is still a stigma, and many people don’t like to talk about their disorder, they appear in every walk of life and business, just like anybody else. 

Q: Is epilepsy unusual?

A: No, around 1 in 100 people around the world suffer from it. But I believe it is an under-reported condition despite being the commonest neurological problem we see. It affects every age, every race and every class of people, and experts estimate the world is home to about 50 million people with the disorder. It’s interesting to note, however, that 75% of people with epilepsy live in poor countries with little medical support.  

Q: Are people who have epilepsy mentally handicapped?

A: While some people who suffer symptomatic epilepsy or don’t control their condition properly can demonstrate less intellectual and cognitive ability, most people have a completely normal IQ and intellect.